STARTUP

New Rules of Getting Everything Done in a Start-up

How can you get your employees whipped into a state of maximized productivity? Follow these 4 tips.
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In Start-up Land, the phrase, "it's not my job" is like a four-letter word. Inevitably in this fast-paced, succeed-or-bust environment, employers have no choice but to ask employees to do lots of different things. It's easy for leaders to overlook areas where their employees truly excel.

Still, everybody has strong spots and weak spots. According to Gallup's StrengthFinder research, there are 34 common "talents" that can be determined by assessing a variety of personality traits. The theory beyond the methodology is focusing on what is "right" about people rather than what's wrong. In other words: everybody has a gift. Unfortunately, during early stage growth, it's all hands on deck, all the time regardless of the profile of strengths and weaknesses.  Everyone is pushing the boundaries of their skills and knowledge.

Ultimately, you should find a balance between filing in holes and allowing your employees to use their gifts. When they're doing what they're meant to do, they'll be in a "flow" state of creativity and maximum productivity, which is good for both of you. But how do you achieve this without compromising on crucial business goals?

Roles That Are Undefined...are Just Fine

In the early phases of start-up, your org chart should serve as a guideline, not as a Bible. For the most part, young companies need generalists: that is, employees can who can jump in and lend a hand for whatever's needed. Inevitably, you'll need your employees to fill in some gaps—and complete some tasks that weren't in their job description. This can feel like chaos at times, which is why start-ups aren't for the faint of heart. However, it can also be a huge opportunity. Ryan Healy wrote in TLNT that on-the-job training is going to become standard. Aptitude and willingness—not a resume—will determine who does what.

That means observing your employees and taking note of their gifts, so that the next time an assignment opens up, you know who's best qualified to tackle it. It may be that there's no obvious candidate, and this is where it's useful to assess people using the StrengthFinder methodology or something similar. When you are tuned into people gifts, you recognize who is worth training for what role. Inc contributor Jeff Haden says that good employers make it their goal to "develop every employee." In return, you'll get employees at the top of their game.

When it Comes to Passion, Your Product is First

Don't hire someone who says they're passionate about lead-gen marketing. Hire someone who is so passionate about your product that they'll do anything to make sure people know about it. Hire people who want to get the job done, but don't hire people who are going to be huge sticklers for how it gets done.

"Create an environment where your hires can be leaders within the company," advises Sara Menke, founder and CEO of Premier Staffing. "Results are what matter, identifying an employee with the qualities to get the job done is what matters."

When you give people the freedom to get the job done how they want to do it, your results will be maximized. Even though you must assign goals to your employees, it's best if you can let them choose how they accomplish the task, according to motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. In other words, let them bring their gift to work.

Diversity + Balance x Debate = Success

A recent Forbes insight study identified five different personality types necessary for innovation at a company. Surprisingly, companies need more than just "movers and shakers" and "experimenters" with big ideas in order to thrive. They also need the "hangers on;" people who are grounded, methodical, and even slightly adverse to change. When it comes to assembling your executive team, make sure you have balance.

Of course, with "balance" comes the butting of heads. As a leader, it's your job to establish a culture of conversation, meaning that everyone feels comfortable expressing opinions and debating. The StrengthFinder identifies 34 different talents—all of them valuable. Try to match the right talent with the right role, but also thinking about getting a broad range of talents at your start-up.

As Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, told the New York Times, "we have a culture of meritocracy, not democracy." Everyone is encouraged to speak up, and debate occurs, but only one idea can win. Depending on the situation, it might be a conservative or creative solution that's appropriate. When you balance your team with people of all personality types, you get the best information in every area. Serious debates mean strong decisions mean successful companies.

Communicate Openly

Make sure every employee is aware of all your company's goals, large and small. Part of having undefined roles is that people who are interested in or skilled in a particular area can jump in when opportunities arise. Being transparent about challenges and projects at your organization makes it more likely that an employee will speak up if she has something to offer.You never know when someone will have a bright idea or hidden talent that will make a huge difference.

To take it ever further, one company I know of allows employees to volunteer to host training sessions in their areas of expertise, i.e Microsoft Excel, social media. Make it clear that if your employees have an interest, skill or gift, they are welcome to express it or share it at your company. To some degree, they shape their experience based on what they love, but you also get insight into everyone's super power. With that knowledge, you can make the kind of assignments that will make everyone more successful.

Don't be afraid to mix things up. It's easier to keep things the way they are than to create opportunity to expose potential. However, when you stop, review, and reflect, then shift folks around based on their strengths, you're likely to be rewarded with better results in the end.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Apr 25, 2012

WENDY LEA | Columnist | CEO, Get Satisfaction

Wendy Lea is the CEO of Get Satisfaction, a social business platform that helps companies engage customers through transparent conversations that increase customer satisfaction, product insight, and enhance loyalty.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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